Have you ever felt like life has been unfair to you? Maybe not all the time, but sometimes luck just doesn’t go your way.
On top of that, you have forces and immutable characteristics completely out of your control that dictate parts of your life.
Seems a bit messed up doesn’t it?
Society as a whole just seems crazily unfair.
Welcome to being a human being living on planet earth. The thing about human beings? We’re self-centered. Even the most pious and self-righteous among us are usually only able to see life through the narrow lens of their own experience.
So this causes us to look at how unfair our lives are and totally ignore everyone else who would look at us as “privileged.” Then it’s turtles all the way up and down for everyone everywhere.
I live in America, the most abundant country in the world in absolute terms, but you might not know it by looking at our discourse.
We walk about wealth inequality and the one percent, meanwhile, there are entire continents of people who’d kill to live at the poverty line in America — the poverty line would be a ten-fold increase in their living standards.
The point isn’t to play the comparison game where I tell you to be grateful just because you don’t live in a third world country. You have no choice but to see your life in relation to your experiences, environment, and people around you.
We intuitively know our spots on the totem pole because our ancestors needed to for survival. I used this example to frame the rest of this message about how to deal with your circumstances, your lot in life.
I understand the argument for perfect equity in society. It’s noble. The idea of a utopia where everyone would have equal outcomes in life seems fair and ideal on the surface, but it would be the worst possible way to live and it’s impossible to achieve anyway.
Let’s take a triggering example I’ve seen before. I’ve seen people say that teachers should get paid the same as professional athletes. A basic understanding of economics shows why this is impossible. I don’t need to explain that. But also, the ripple effect of the elite performance of athletes is worth every penny.
There has been sport since the dawn of civilization. “Bread and circus” in many ways, keep the fabric of society held together. Without sports and entertainment, it is quite hard for people to cope with life. So I’d argue sports provides a just as inherently valuable of a service as teaching and a much more commercially valuable one.
This speaks to the broader macro theme of misunderstanding massive inequality in certain contexts — hating it instead of appreciating how much you appreciate it whether you know it or not.
You don’t want to live in a society where people aren’t allowed to have extreme success. Your life is better because of outliers.
You like the internet don’t you? How about your iPhone? Nike sneakers? Cars? Airplanes? Electricity? The financial incentive to innovate makes your life immeasurably better.
That’s the macro view to thwart the idea that a perfectly evenly balanced society is a good thing. Yes, we want everyone to have equal opportunities to make the best of their mixture of innate talent, work ethic, and luck. But you can’t legislate talent, work ethic, and luck.
I used this macro example because it infects the minds of individuals and ruins their capacity to succeed on an individual level. Change the way you look at fairness altogether if you want to change your life.
You were born with the innate level of talent in different areas and there’s nothing you can do about it but work with what you have.
Communication is my gift. But I have horrible hand-eye coordination, I’m mechanically illiterate, and I can’t jump high or run fast. This is why I became a writer instead of a carpenter, surgeon, or athlete.
Work ethic, a variable you can control, varies widely. And a good portion of people who complain and rail against the system for equity are just lazy. Some people deserve to have more resources than others because they work harder to get them.
And there’s an argument to be made that resources don’t matter at all. How can you say money doesn’t matter yet simultaneously hate rich people? Doesn’t compute. But people don’t need to compute to replace thoughts with emotions.
Then there’s luck. Sometimes the ball just bounces your way. Sometimes it doesn’t. If you’re born into a cycle of poverty, one that can be partially fixed but not all the way fixed through legislation, you’re statistically worse off. Born into true poverty? Next to impossible.
Again, that problem can be solved long-term, but in the meantime, it makes no sense for you to overly worry about every variation of shit-cards dealt to humans.
Looking at my life, the ball bounced my way in that I’m somewhat intelligent and grew up in a middle-class family. Some would say I’m unlucky because I’m a black male (I wouldn’t, though). A few chance circumstances lead to the career I have right now and I can’t take one hundred percent credit for my success. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t work for it.
Get where I’m going here?
Living in a fantasy world of over idealism or a hell of nihilism because of what you don’t have, or the plight of the world, or all the random variables that make up life, will never lead to the outcomes you want in life.
What law can help you live a life of purpose? None. Happiness doesn’t come from society, it comes from you — how you decide to think, behave, and react.
You can wait for society to fit your narrative of the way it should be, but see, you’re going to die waiting for that to come to fruition.
Easy for me to say, right? I’m not some kid in the slums living on welfare with a single parent hooked on drugs. What do you tell him? Fair or not, you tell him the same thing. Not because it’s right, but because it’s real.
Why do I carry this attitude? Because both my parents grew up in the slums and made it out because they chose to focus on what they could control. How dare I dishonor their legacy by acting like a victim? I won’t. What would've a victim attitude gotten them? Nothing.
People either honestly or dishonestly try to make this strawman argument where they make you out to not care about raising the standards of all while advocating to raise the standards of individuals — individuals who might not have time to wait for utopia.
You can do both at the same time and it’s the right thing to do. Yes, get the laws where you need them to be to make society as fair as possible, but good luck, again, trying to legislate away the type of inequalities that have nothing to do with the law — luck of the draw generational cycles. The road for a person like that is a lot different, but it’s their road. Your road is your road.
Focus on your life, help where you can, civically engage, participate in your causes, fight for your rights, and the rights of others at the same damn time.
How is this so hard to grasp?
My favorite mental magic trick is when people who don’t live in dire circumstances point to the injustices of the entire world as this veiled excuse for their own inaction.
“Look at all the injustice in society!” Ok, I see it, but what does that have to do with you, especially if you’re not personally in that group?
As you know or can tell by now I’m not what you would call a ‘social justice advocate.’ That doesn’t mean I don’t advocate for social justice, it simply means I see a higher level of meritocracy than most people who fit the aforementioned definition.
I don’t see the world as a zero-sum game with one hundred percent of people who are permanently have and have nots destined for permanent failure.
I see the world as a complex system filled with so many variables to measure that you can never solve that Rubick’s cube altogether.
I see a world with structural inequalities — some you can legislate away and some you just can’t. And all of which sit on top of an explosive barrel of second, third, and fourth-order consequences. Something no one ever talks about.
I see you, the individual who has no choice but to live in this world as it is right now, as it's trying to get better but not overnight.
You can focus on making improvements to the macro, yes, but don’t make the mistake most people make, which is using macro, vague, complex problems as an excuse not to focus on themselves and the things happening around them on the ground.
Don’t play that game others are playing — looking for this perfect end-game that, by nature of reality itself, cannot exist.
Do what you can with what you have, what skills you possess, what you look like, and focus on your civil duties. You can walk and chew gum at the same time, you know.
Don’t outsource your life purpose to the overlords of society. They won’t help you, trust me.
Don’t worry about things you can’t control. I know it’s fun to mentally masturbate to the fantasies of what could’ve been, but they’re just fantasies.
Look at all the noise we have in society, in our discourse, coming from the mouths of other people. See it for what it really is. Use logic to discern whether or not this noise is good for society itself or your personal life. Oftentimes, neither.
It’s not selfish to focus on making your life better. Remove yourself from the helpless crowd if you don’t need to be in that group. They can get the attention they need. And you’ll be in a position to help them.
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